Initially, our plan was to travel to Glenveagh, north of Donegal (yes, Lisa Michener, the signs have stopped being in English and Gaelic, so we must be pretty far north) to visit the Glenveagh Castle and the national park around it. But once we started reading about the history of the castle, we just didn’t feel right visiting a beautiful place that had been created by evicting more than 250 poor people, all of whom had been paying their rent and many of whom starved after being forced into homelessness. Captain John George Adair did this by invoking a loophole in a little-known law, and his reason was because he wanted to use the entire village as hunting ground. The national park is touted as a place of extreme beauty, but we couldn’t help feeling some solidarity with the folks who were driven out of their homes by evil, and both Dan and I remember keenly what it felt like to be homeless and broke. So we invoked some guidance from Geraldine, the lovely woman at the Lough Eske Castle desk, and she gave us a map and spent a crazy wonderful amount of time giving us ideas. We are SO glad we met Geraldine, and here’s why.
We traveled along the coast through some lovely small towns and stopped dozens of times to take in the breathtaking scenery before arriving at Slieve Leagh Cliffs, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. It wasn’t crowded at all, and we started walking up the hill. You could drive it most of the way, but the rain had stopped, and we thought it might be more fun to walk for a bit. So we climbed, and climbed, and climed – 2,000 feet in all, which doesn’t seem like much (it’s actually twice the height of the Eiffel Tower, for my Francophile friends), but on a twisted path filled with sheep (and sheep poop), a narrow road, and scenery so beautiful you had to stop and catch your breath just because it was so spectacular, we didn’t rush on this hike. I took hundreds of photos today, and I’d be hard-pressed to say which one was my favorite. By the time we made it up to the summit, the clouds had started to clear, and the skies were blue. Honestly, I don’t think I could possibly describe how amazingly beautiful it was to be there on top of the world. The sheep grazing there were mostly unafraid of us, and I couldn’t help but think how lucky they must feel to be able to wander around in that kind of awe every day and night with only one job and one responsibility – eat regularly and get a haircut a couple of times a year. The rest of their lives is spent just enjoying living at the top of the world!
Today is one of those days when I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but I confess that about fifteen times today, the realization hit me that no matter how great my photos were, they would not even scratch the surface to describe or show how magnificent this place was. Around every turn of the twisty, narrow road was another gasp because it was even more beautiful than the one before, and the view on descending looked completely different because the sun was out, and the whole landscape and panorama changed. It was something I will treasure forever, and by the time we got to the bottom of the trail, I felt like this was one more part of the trip which had made me feel like I was on top of the world.
We made it to Sligo around 5 p.m. Sligo is a river town that Dan remembers as being much, much smaller and less touristy when he last visited it several years ago. I’m not sure if it was because it’s a Saturday or because it was after hours (and downtown businesses never seem to realize that many of their potential customers are lost because they close so early), but the only places open were trendy, chic brasseries and taverns. I tried to get Dan to stop at a fish and chip carry out, but he is trying so hard to make this trip special for me that I don’t think he realized that would have been a five-star dining experience for me (reminder – “We’ll never be royals…”). Tomorrow we’ll be visiting Manorhamilton, a one-word named town that I really feel should have a two word name. Dan’s spent some time in Manorhamilton before, and he knows some folks who live there. I’m not sure it will happen, but he seemed to think it would be fun to show up at Sunday Mass and surprise his friends, whom he knows are good Catholics. I’m a little concerned that the ceiling will cave in minutes after we walk in, but these old churches are built pretty solidly, so maybe they can stand a couple of sinners in the midst. Tomorrow is our last night in Ireland, and then we head to Denmark to visit Sasha, Tamara, Zara, and Anja.
I’ve loved every minute of this trip, and even though I’m always super-sleepy at the end of the evenings when I jot down my thoughts and barf out my blog, having a chance to share the trip has been really special for me. Sometimes in my life, I’ve had whole chunks of time – months and even a few years – that are fuzzy or forgotten fully. I’m not sure it’s a defense mechanism cultivated way, way back when or just my limited abilities that make me feel like an amnesia victim, but having the motivation to write about this trip each day as it’s unfolded has been ‘chicken soup for my soul,’ and I am gratified that my friends and family may be enjoying the adventures of a not-too-savvy traveler dipping my toes in the water. While I was sitting up on top of the world today at Slieve Leagh, I promised myself I wouldn’t wait long before I added another item to my life list, not because I want to be selfish or self-absorbed but because I finally believe I am worthy of having goals and dreams and spending a little of my time, treasure, and energy to help see them to fruition.
Funny the things you think of when you’re sitting on top of the world, isn’t it?